Masturbation and acne
Looking at the research and possible links between masturbation and acne
There is no specific scientific evidence linking masturbation and acne. However, for hundreds if not thousands of years, societies around the world, in an attempt to prevent young people from engaging in premarital sex, have latched onto the myth that sex/masturbation and acne are in some way related. Let's take a moment now to look at modern science and see if we can help unravel this controversy.
What does the research say?
There are no published studies attempting to link masturbation or sex with acne. Until researchers produce those studies, we'll need to take a step back. We do know that hormones and acne are linked, particularly when it comes to increased levels of androgens (male hormones) such as testosterone. So let's look at how arousal and the sex act affect hormone levels. First, it's worth mentioning that we know far more on this topic when it comes to animals such as rats and monkeys than we do about humans.1-4 Science is spotty in the area of human hormonal production and sex. According to a study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, "...small differences in methodology and data interpretation may easily produce contrasting results."5 A survey of the evidence bears this out.
...small differences in methodology and data interpretation may easily produce contrasting results.5
What the evidence shows
Several studies show very small increases in testosterone after orgasm in both men and women, while others show statistically insignificant differences.5-8 Studies specific to arousal show from very small increases in hormone levels to insignificant changes.5-6,8 However, even when changes are apparent, levels return back to baseline within minutes. As you can see, we have little if any compelling evidence. To complicate matters even more, a study in the Journal of Zhejiang University SCIENCE in 2003 showed a marked increase in testosterone on the 7th day of abstinence, which the authors posit is possibly due to sperm formation and maturation.9
We simply do not know whether masturbation or sex is related to acne, or for that matter human hormonal balance. Current research tends to point toward very small hormonal changes after arousal or sex, if any. Whether these changes are beneficial or detrimental for acne remains unknown.
We know that humans with high androgen levels tend to experience more severe acne symptoms. We also know that humans with higher androgen levels tend to have a higher sex drive. This may explain why some people who are more sexually active, with themselves or partners, may at times experience more acne symptoms. Whether abstinence would increase or decrease acne in such individuals is up for debate."
- Herndon JG, Turner JJ, Collins DC. "Ejaculation is important for mating-induced testosterone increase in male rhesus monkeys." Physiology & Behavior. 1981 Nov;27(5):873-7.
- Herndon JG, Perachio AA, et al. "Fluctuations in testosterone levels of male rhesus monkeys during copulatory activity." Physiology & Behavior. 1981 Mar;26(3):525-8.
- Hernandez ME, Soto-Cid A, et al. "A study of the prostate, androgens and sexual activity of male rats." Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology. 2007 Mar 16;5:11.
- Romano-Torres M, Phillips-Farfan BV, et al. "Relationship between sexual satiety and brain androgen receptors." Neuroendocrinology. 2007;85(1):16-26. Epub 2007 Jan 8.
- Exton MS, Bindert A, et al. "Cardiovascular and endocrine alterations after masturbation-induced orgasm in women." Psychosomatic Medicine. 1999 May-Jun;61(3):280-9.
- Kruger T, Exton MS, et al. "Neuroendocrine and cardiovascular response to sexual arousal and orgasm in men." Psychoneuroendocrinology. 1998 May;23(4):401-11.
- Stoleru SG, Ennaji A, et al. "LH pulsatile secretion and testosterone blood levels are influenced by sexual arousal in human males." Psychoneuroendocrinology. 1993;18(3):205-18.
- Exton MS, Kruger TH, et al. "Endocrine response to masturbation-induced orgasm in healthy men following a 3-week sexual abstinence." World Journal of Urology. 2001 Nov;19(5):377-82.
- Jiang M, Xin J, et al. "A research on the relationship between ejaculation and serum testosterone level in men." Journal of Zhejiang University SCIENCE. 2003 Mar-Apr;4(2):236-40.